Category: Hercule Poirot

EP0617:Campbell’s Playhouse: The Murder of Roger Akroyd

Orson Welles

While trying to retire, Poirot investigates the murder of a rich man in the country.

Original Air Date: November 12, 1939

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Book Review: Black Coffee

When ITV announced the final series of Poirot episode, I was surprised that ITV opted to film the Labours of Hercules, a collection of short stories, rather than the Hercule Poirot play, Black Coffee. I remain skeptical of their ability to adapt a series of adventure into a single two hour movie. I was also curious why they passed on Black Coffee, as a play would seem ideal for a TV adaptation.

When I learned of the decision, I decided to get hold of the audiobook copy of Black Coffee. The play was adapted to a novel by Australia Author Charles Osborne and this book was read by John Moffatt who has played Poirot in BBC Radio 4’s adaptations of Christie’s novels.

In Black Coffee, Poirot is summoned to collect a top secret formula by Sir Claud Amory. Poirot and Captain Hastings arrive to find Amory murdered, the formula missing,  and a room full of suspects.

Listening to the book, it became apparent that Black Coffee was the type of play that’s easily performed by community playhouses. The plot is relatively simple with most of the action, so to speak, consigned to one room. It featured typical stage dialogue and action, even within the confinds of the novel.

The audiobook was entertaining, thanks  to the performance of Moffat, who brought each character to life with a solid performance that made the audiobook practically a one man play. The book itself was okay. Osborne stuck very closely to Christie’s play adding next to nothing other than transcribing the stage directions and adding a somewhat unnecessary scene that introduces Poirot. 

Reading Black Coffee makes apparent why ITV chose not to adapt the play. ITV’s Poirot is famous not only for David Suchet’s definitive portrayal as the great detective but for the fantastic cinematography. While Black Coffee may make more for an entertaining night at the playhouse, it’d be downright claustraphobic compared to the rest of the Poirot series.

The novel is good mainly if you want to enjoy a Poirot mystery and can’t get to the playhouse to see it. It’s a servicable if not inspired adaptation.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Appointment with Death (2009)

“Your appointment with death was always to be here…”

In Appointment with Death(2009), Poirot arrives inSyria to follow the expedition of Lord Boyton (Tim Curry), who is searching for the head of John the Baptist. While there, Poirot witnesses Lady Boyton’s unpleasant behavior towards everyone other than her husband and overhears two of her children talking about how she must die.

And die she does. She’s found stabbed to death from her perch in the sun above the excavations where she watched her husband’s team excavating. Poirot is asked to investigate, but there are more secrets being kept by members of the party other than murder. Poirot (David Suchet) must sort through them all to find the real killer.


The acting in this telefilm is superb. David Suchet is his usual self and is supported by a fantastic cast of supporting players including Curry who has a great scene with Poirot in a cave where the two retell an ancient fable that’s written on the wall. This foreshadows much of the rest of the story and forms a narrative that suggests that no matter how long evil is unpunished, judgment and death finally catch up with the perpetrators.

Suchet was spell-binding in a 23 minute wrap-up of the case in which he deals with all the “red fish” in the case and reveals all.

The story (while not at all faithful to the book it’s supposedly adapting) is compelling and well-written. The teleplay like the later adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is a product of its times, as it focuses on Lady Boyton’s sadistic abuse of her children from childhood to the present, and is in many ways reflective of frustration with the pervasiveness with this sort of behavior and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the courts to punish it.  It is a very dark story, yet the writers do manage to work a few rays of hope into what is a very heavy ending.

Appointment with Death also features stunning cinematography, as well as a powerful soundtrack that makes it a solid mystery.

Of course, as mentioned earlier the film deviates so much from the original novel, it’s barely recognizable. It’s addition of characters, subtraction of characters, change of murder methods and murder motives, change of location has been documented by many sites.

Clearly, Christie fans who complain about the movies have a point as the changes from Christie’s original are extreme. Ideally, if you title a movie by a book title and say it’s an adaptation, the movie should keep to the book. And if you’re going to make something vastly different, it ought to have a different title just as the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies which borrowed elements from the Arthur Conan Doyle Stories were titled completely different from the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

One also has to ask whatever to the cozy mystery series? The original series of one hour Poirot episodes was more genteel, while recent films have taken a more gritty turn. The changes seem to be the result of ratings pressure. Scripted television of any sort is in an endangered species and if a TV show is going to be shot as an expensive period piece, it better draw rating. So far, these grittier Poirots have succeeded as the series has drawn good ratings and been renewed and perhaps will generate interests in the original stories.

Despite its departures from the source material, Appointment with Death is a compelling story in its own right and one of my favorite mystery films of recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Hercule Poirot’s Unpublished Stories

Hercules Poirot was featured in 33 published novels, 51 published short stories, and a stage play. But there were two Poirot Short stories that were not published during her lifetime. They appeared in book form in Agatha Christie’ s Secret Notebook by John Curran. However, the Christie estate decided to make the two short stories available seperate audiobook read by David Suchet.

The title of one story will be familiar to Christie fans, it’s called “The Capture of Cerberus,” which is the title of the published story that wrapped up, The Labours of Hercules. This particular story is vastly different as Poirot’s labour is truly Herculean as he tries to uncover the truth behind the assassination of a lightly fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler.

The story was interesting for its historical value. It also provided Christie’s answer to a question many science fiction authors have addressed, “What if Hitler had been assassinated.” Christie suggests that Hitler would have been viewed as a martyr and would have radicalized and galvanized the German people. The story is hopeful that after the horrors of World War I, another conflagration could be avoided and peace and brotherhood could somehow win out.

It was a nice thought, but the story was shelved with good reasons. To have a fictional character “use the little gray cells” and prevent a real life war that’s certainly inevitable in the real world is just not appropriate. In addition, the story is definitely not as fun as the version that went into the book. It should be noted that Christie would feature two of the characters who were in this story in the published version.  It felt like it was in more of a draft state when compared to the stories that did make into Labours of Hercules.  Thankfully, it was discarded for a much better story.

“The Incident of the Dog’s Ball” was much more satisfying.  In it Poirot receives a rambling letter from an old woman asking for help. He arrives at the lady’s house, only to find out she’d passed on (apparently of natural causes)  and had  forgotten to mail it. Slowly and methodically, Poirot begins to uncover what really happened and why the lady contacted.

Later, the short story was expanded and revised into the novel, Dumb Witness,  but works just fine as a very satisfying short story.

David Suchet’s definitive Poirot voice truly makes the story a delight. He also  read nearly all the voices well (with one exception). Suchet’s reading and the novelty of these lost stories makes this collection a must for fans of Christie and Hercule Poirot.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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